Knowledge + knowing = innovation

I’ve just finished reading a dense yet highly insightful article by Cook and Brown (1999) about the nature of knowledge and its relationship to organisational innovation. Although the article was written in a pre-social media age (hard to imagine now), like any great research it contains powerful insights that are highly relevant in today’s world where use of social tools by businesses is growing exponentially. This post is an attempt to interpret aspects of their article and apply it to social business, but I would highly recommend reading the original research (reference at the end of the post).

Cook and Brown argue that there are four different types of knowledge: explicit, tacit, individual and group. Each type of knowledge is distinctly different and each fulfills a function that the others cannot.

  • Explicit knowledge can be understood as “knowledge that can be spelled out or formalised”
  • Tacit knowledge is associated with skills or know-how
  • Individual knowledge is that stored in the minds of individuals
  • Group knowledge constitutes the ‘body of knowledge’ possessed by a specialist group or community of practice

‘Knowledge’ and ‘Knowing’ are also understood as two separate concepts, with each enabling the other. Knowledge can be viewed as something that individuals or groups possess, and Knowing constitutes the application of this knowledge in a form of action by groups and individuals interacting with each other and the physical world. In this sense, Knowledge is positioned as a tool of Knowing with each enabling the other.

The key aspect of this interpretation is Cook and Brown’s belief that the interaction between knowledge and knowing constitutes a powerful driver of innovation in organisations. Of particular significance is their argument that “harnessing this innovation calls for organisational and technological infrastructures that support the interplay of knowledge and knowing” (1999: 381).

Why is this relevant in the age of social media?

The use of social media tools in organizations can be seen as constituting precisely this sort of infrastructure, as these tools enable employees and managers to access, manage and make use of the “intellectual capital” of the organisation. Implementing a means to access the tacit and explicit knowledge that resides in both individuals and groups enables managers to tap into the creative potential of the workforce. This rich knowledge can then be applied to help the organization generate innovative ideas, products or solutions. The ease with which organisations are able to tap into this creative potential is likely to increase their competitive advantage and ultimately render them more innovative.

The recent report by the Altimeter Group about the Evolution of Social Business suggests that there is a distinct gap between businesses that are implementing a social media strategy and those that are ‘deeply integrating social media and social methodologies throughout the company to drive real business impact’ (full report below). The research indicated a truly social business has an approach to social which:

  1. is clearly aligned with strategic business goals of an ogranisation
  2. has organisational alignment and support that enables the execution of that strategy.

After surveying nearly 700 social media professionals and executives the research also found that only 34% of businesses believed that their approach to social media was connected to the goals and objectives of the business. And more worryingly, the report uncovered that ‘half of all executives are not informed, engaged or aligned with their company’s social media strategies in any capacity’.

There is a clear need for senior executives in businesses and organisations to understand the competitive advantage that social tools can leverage. The alignment of social tools with strategic objectives can significantly increase the potential for an organisation to harness the rich creative potential of its workforce. Using social tools, organisations can access the ‘knowledge’ residing in individuals and groups and turn it into the ‘knowing’ that can bring real innovation.


Cook, S. D. N. and Brown, J.S. (1999) Bridging Epistemologies: The Generative Dance Between Organizational Knowledge and Organizational Knowing. Organisation Science, Jul/Aug 1999, Vol. 10, No. 4. pp.381-400.

Li, C. and Solis, B. (2013) The Evolution of Social Business; Six Stages of Social Business Transformation. Altimeter Group 

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